LAS VEGAS – The identity of the best fighter of this generation was never really in doubt.
Oh, some wanted to contest Floyd Mayweather’s position as the best boxer of his time and made points of varying strength about the quality of his opposition, the timing of some of his bigger fights and what was perceived as an unwillingness to engage.
Mayweather, though, erased whatever little doubt that remained with an unquestionable victory over Manny Pacquiao on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden in a match which was as much about the incredible sums of money it generated as it was about the talent of the fighters.
Judge Dave Moretti had it 10 rounds to two, or 118-110 for Mayweather. Judges Glenn Feldman and Burt Clements each saw it 116-112, giving Mayweather eight of the 12 rounds. Yahoo Sports had it 115-113 for Mayweather.
“He’s a tough competitor,” Mayweather said of his vanquished foe.
Two months after his 38th birthday, Mayweather turned back the man whom fans have clamored for him to fight for more than five years.
The crowd pulled passionately for the Filipino superstar, who rose from abject poverty to become a politician, a musician and one of the best boxers in the world. Every time he landed, they roared. His best shot came in the fourth when he rocked Mayweather, but he had trouble getting past the jab or penetrating Mayweather’s defense.
On this night, though, he was no match for Mayweather, who improved his record to 48-0 with perhaps the most significant victory of his professional career.
“I thought I caught him many more times than he caught me,” Pacquiao said. “I was never hurt. I was very surprised by the scores. I thought I hit him much more than he hit me.”
With one fight remaining on the contract he signed with CBS/Showtime in early 2013, Mayweather has the opportunity to match the 49-0 record of former heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano. He said he’d retire after a fight in September.
On Saturday, facing the rival he’d been accused for years of ducking, Mayweather showed his class by cleanly outboxing Pacquiao and winning a unanimous decision. The reach advantage was clear between them and Mayweather popped Pacquiao repeatedly with his jab.
He did it the way he has for the past 19 years, using speed, quickness, impeccable timing, punching accuracy and most of all an incredible ring awareness to throttle his smaller rival.
Pacquiao landed just 81 of 429 punches, a puny 18.9 percent and around the average connect percentage against Mayweather. Mayweather landed nearly twice as many shots, connecting at 34 percent while landing 148 of 435.
There has always been controversy swirling around Mayweather and the days ahead of the Pacquiao fight were no exception. Because of the nature of the match, the interest in the fight was far great and so, too, was the media scrutiny.
His history of domestic violence, which he’d hoped would have been overlooked after his 2012 release from the Clark County, Nev., Detention Center, became a theme of much of the pre-fight coverage.
There were groups protesting outside the arena both on Friday after the weigh-in and on Saturday before the bout. A dispute arose early Saturday when two reporters, Rachel Nichols of CNN and Michelle Beadle of ESPN and HBO, tweeted that they were denied credentials. Both women have covered the domestic violence angle aggressively. Promoters vehemently denied that allegation.
But Mayweather, as he always has been in the boxing ring, was implacable. If any of it weighed on him, it was impossible to tell by looking at him and even more difficult to discern by watching him box.
And so, this era will officially and forever be “The Mayweather Era” – one he dominated not so much with power and knockouts but rather with defensive excellence and marketing brilliance.
He began his career as a highly touted bronze medal winner from the 1996 U.S. Olympic team known as “Pretty Boy” Floyd. He ended it as the trash-talking, bejeweled multi-millionaire who set a new standard for how athletes should handle their careers.
He’s outraged fans, particularly the old-timers, by calling himself “The Best Ever.” And while that’s a gross overstatement and ignoring the greatness of Sugar Ray Robinson and a number of other fighters, a large part of it is marketing shtick to call attention to himself.
But while there is a debate about where he deserves to rank on the all-time list – a panel commissioned by Yahoo Sports ranked him 19th last week, before the fight – there is no doubt that he is the best of his time.
And at the end of the day, that is all that can be asked for a boxer.
So maybe Mayweather is TBE: Just make it The Best of the Era and we can all live with that.